Staging a nearly four-hour filibuster, a South Carolina Senate Democrat on Wednesday delayed a vote on proposed budget cuts to two state universities in retaliation for selecting gay-themed books for their summer reading programs.
Although the Senate had been expected to resume debate on Thursday, that never happened. Instead, the Charleston Post and Courier reports the senator behind the filibuster, Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, said there's a deal in the works that could allow legislators to move past the impasse.
The South Carolina House of Representatives in March approved a state budget that would cut $52,000 from the College of Charleston and $17,142 from the University of South Carolina Upstate for selecting Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, about South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show, respectively. The figures represent the amount each school spent on last year’s programs.
During debates in the House’s budget-writing committee and before the full body, some lawmakers accused the College of Charleston of promoting a gay agenda and forcing pornography on its students, themes that carried over Wednesday into the Senate discussion.
According to the Post and Courier, during the lengthy and contentious debate, "senators compared Fun Home and its author to everything from slavery to serial murderer Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler." Republican Sen. Larry Grooms, a vocal proponent of the cuts, bristled at the sex scenes in the acclaimed graphic novel, asking, "Is it ever appropriate to use taxpayer dollars to fund pornography?"
In an interview following the close of Wednesday's session, Hutto said the Senate is "hung up on sex," and particularly homosexuality. "This is one vote that is going to embarrass many," he told the newspaper. "You won't be able to explain it to your grandchildren. They are going to say, 'I can't believe you did that.' ... They're going to say 'the old fogies in the Senate of South Carolina just aren't with it.'"
Hutto said on Thursday that a potential comprise would involve the colleges permitting students to read an alternative to the book selected for the programs. Both the College of Charleston and USC Upstate already make provisions for students who object to the material: The former permits them to withdrawal from any class that uses College Reads selections and enter another, while the latter opted for a situation-specific, allowing anyone bothered by the inclusion of Out Loud in English 101 to instead take the course in their second year.
Whether that solution is enough to end the demand for budget cuts remains to be seen. "Either we're going to work out a compromise or one side will have more votes than the other," Hutto told the Post and Courier.The vote is expected to be close; under Senate rules, a tie would be broken by the presiding officer. That's Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who's recused himself because he becomes president of the College of Charleston in July. For the record, he opposes the cuts.